Michigan DUI – Who’s your Judge and why that’s Important – Part 2

In part 1 of this article, we began examining why the Judge to whom a DUI case is assigned plays such an important role in how it will be handled. We noted that there are certain differences between courts that are more about local practice, and are mainstays of the way things are done there, independent of the Judge or Judges who preside there. By contrast, the Judge plays a key role in how other things are done, and that there can even be significant differences between how various Judges working in the same courthouse do things.

vectorstock_7584840-300x287I then went on to point out how these differences can show up from the very beginning of a case, and can affect not only the procedures used by one Judge as opposed to the next, but also the time frame within which a DUI case is wrapped up. Just about everyone knows that it’s “better” to have some Judges over others. However, the reality is that there is nothing a person can do about this because each case must be decided in the court that has jurisdiction over the municipality where it arose, and, in courts that have more than one Judge, cases are assigned among them on an actual, blind-draw basis.

By far, one of the biggest concern for my team and I, as Michigan DUI lawyers, is how any particular Judge perceives and “labels” a person’s relationship to alcohol. This directly affects whether or not a person will get off “easy” and just have to go through something like an alcohol-education class (or a few of them), or will instead wind up being required to do all kinds of burdensome counseling and/or treatment. The big and very real risk for anyone going through a DUI is being at the receiving end of a “knee-jerk” reaction by the court to treat everyone as if they do, in fact, have some kind of drinking problem.

This occurs as a direct result of what is called the “alcohol bias,” and it primarily arises from the simple, statistical fact that, as a group, people who have been arrested for a DUI have a higher incidence of alcohol problems than people who have never been arrested for a DUI.

However, that statistical fact also has to be balanced against the reality that the vast majority of people who wind up getting a single DUI do NOT have any kind or drinking problem. For most people, especially those facing a 1st offense, a DUI can just “happen.”

This sounds good, but making it clear, especially to any particular Judge,  is easier said than done.

In fact, this whole subject is so important that I have dedicated an entire alcohol bias section on this blog to it, and I’d strongly encourage the reader to check out at least some of the articles there, because they really help explain why DUI cases are handled the way they are in the larger court system.

As it relates to the point of this article, we can summarize the impact of the alcohol bias on a Judge by simply noting that, simply because a person has to go to court for a DUI, it means he or she is automatically perceived as having a higher risk to have, or at least to someday develop, a drinking problem more so than a person who has never been arrested for drunk driving.

In other words, every person who walks into court to face a drunk driving charge does so essentially as a pre-selected member of an at-risk group. In the real world, every court is going to look very closely at every DUI defendant’s drinking, and there is no escaping this.

That’s why, specifically because of the increased statistical likelihood that a person going through an OWI charge has or is at higher risk to develop a troubled relationship to alcohol than the population at large, the court system will always take a “better safe than sorry” approach to how it treats him or her, especially when it comes to ordering things like counseling, testing, and treatment.

Every Judge is keenly aware that he or she could just send someone to jail as punishment for a DUI. When it comes to 1st offense cases, though, almost none ever do, although every last one WILL order rehabilitative measures, (meaning classes, counseling and treatment) even if they turn out to be more than necessary for any particular person.

And in the real world, nobody, including the Judge who ordered it, is ever going to lose any sleep over that.

Except me and my team.

In that sense, what concerns me most about any Judge is really two-fold:

  1. What level understanding (or lack thereof) about alcohol and substance abuse-related issues does he or she bring to the job?, and
  2. Is he or she interested in and open to expanding that understanding?

I say this because some Judges have more interest in how people develop (and overcome) a problematic relationship to alcohol than others; that’s just human nature. In the context of the larger court system, these differences can be rather profound.

I am happy to report that there are some Judges who have really invested themselves in learning about the whole world of recovery.

No matter what kind of “expert” someone may be in any field, though, true “mastery” can really only be measured to the extent that one remains a student of it.

In other words, the most distinguished professor in the addiction studies field isn’t the person who “knows it all,” it’s the person who knows that he or she does NOT know it all, and continues his or her learning with the realization that our understanding of things is always changing and growing.

This makes sense in the abstract, and in theory, but when it comes to issues involving addiction and alcohol, way too many people think they know enough, and don’t otherwise need to be concerned with ongoing developments in the addiction and treatment fields.

In lots of these cases, this is because they believe the “fix” for any kind of drinking problem is simply for a person to attend AA, counseling, and/or treatment.

Unfortunately, that really is the extent of most people’s interest in and knowledge of recovery. The problem is that’s also dangerously incomplete, and not much better than someone thinking they “know” oral surgery because they’ve had their wisdom teeth removed.

As DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyers, our practice revolves around drinking and recovery, and peoples’ relationships to alcohol (and drugs).

Having a thorough and clinically sound understanding of the development, diagnosis and treatment of as well as recovery from alcohol and addiction issue is so central to what we do everyday that, years ago, I went back to the University campus and completed a formal post-graduate program of addiction studies.

3 things motivated me to do that:

First, I was tired of watching 1st time DUI offenders who didn’t have a drinking problem get treated like they did;

Second, I was frustrated at the lack of understanding of the individual needs and the use of a “one size fits all” approach to alcohol education for those DUI offenders without a problem, and the limited kinds of rehabilitative measures ordered for those who did have some kind of troubled relationship to alcohol, and

Third, since proving sobriety is the key to winning a driver’s license restoration case for people who have lost their license as a result of multiple DUI convictions, and I knew that most people who get and stay sober do so without Alcoholics Anonymous, I wanted a solid clinical understanding of the many ways people actually manage to get over a drinking problem beyond just going to AA and counseling.

For everything I learned, the most important lesson I took with me was that our understanding of addiction, treatment and recovery is constantly growing, and that modern treatment protocols are constantly evolving.

Thus, as noted before, the closest one can come to being a master of any subject is really to master becoming a student of it. Here’s why that matters:

Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the preferred treatment formula for anyone struggling with a drinking problem was to complete an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) and then go to AA.

Many of IOP programs, including those at almost all of the high-end facilities, were led by people in recovery, most of whom had gotten sober by the same IOP – AA formula.

Because it worked for them, the thinking went, then it should work for others, too…

Except that was wrong.

In fact, AA has a success rate of about 5% (depending on whose research you believe, it has an efficacy rate of between 3% and 10%).  The truth, empirically validated again and again, is that AA is actually NOT very successful in helping people with drinking problems

As it turns out, AA has a lower success rate than what is called “spontaneous recovery,” which occurs when a person who has just “had enough” simply decides to quit drinking and then stays quit.

In reality, there are many ways that people recover, including spontaneous recovery, which accounts for far more success than just about anyone could imagine.

How, though, does a Judge, who has probably never heard about it, consider, much less order “spontaneous recovery?” After all, it’s spontaneous, and is therefor incapable of being ordered.

As I also noted before, some Judges know a lot more about recovery than others. Unfortunately, if you’re the person facing a DUI, whether your Judge does or not is, as we’ve seen, pretty much a matter of luck of the draw.

A thorough discussion of these issues goes beyond the scope of this article. However, pointing them out is helpful in making larger point I’m driving at, which is that the Judge deciding your case is the single biggest factor in how things will ultimately turn out.

The bottom line for us, as Michigan DUI lawyers, is that this is how we tend to “judge” any Judge: How do things usually turn out with him or her.

If a person going through a DUI winds up in front of a Judge who thinks everyone should do some kind of counseling, then he or she should prepare for counseling.

By contrast, if a person is lucky enough to wind up in front of a Judge who thinks it’s important to really assess whether or not a person has, or is at risk to develop any kind of drinking problem (theoretically, this is a primary goal of the DUI process), then he or she should prepare to be assessed and then sentenced accordingly.

Under Michigan law, every person going through the DUI process must undergo an alcohol assessment, or “screening,” prior to being sentences by the Judge. This is done through the court’s probation department.

Sometimes, a private assessment can be very helpful in this regard.

And that’s where my team and I can help more than anyone, because in addition to everything else, we make sure our clients are prepared for the mandatory alcohol assessment that must be completed prior to a person being sentenced for a DUI in Michigan.

The results of that assessment are used by every Judge to determine what kind of sentence a person should receive.

Instead of just passively hoping that things turn out well, though, my team and I take an active role in all of this.

For example, when we feel that it can be beneficial, we’ll send our clients to our counselor for a private evaluation.

Of course, the biggest concern for everyone going through a DUI will always be, “What’s going to happen to me?”.

Ultimately, the answer to that question can be found in the sentence imposed upon him or her.

Therefore, as I always point out, success in a DUI case is best measure by what does NOT happen to you.

As we’ve seen, the single most important factor in that is the Judge who presides over your case.

If you’re facing a DUI and looking for a lawyer, be a good consumer and do your homework. Read around, and see how lawyers explain the DUI process, and how they explain their approach to it. When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by actually talking to a live person.

If your case is anywhere here, in the Metro-Detroit area of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb or the surrounding counties, give us a ring. All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.

We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.

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